Blake Snell

Snell ready to chase more progress after best Giants outing yet

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SAN FRANCISCO -- As Blake Snell worked his way through a second rehab assignment while sitting on an ERA that was nearly double-digits, it could have been difficult for the Giants to keep their faith. But team officials kept taking their cues from manager Bob Melvin, who said privately that he was confident a big second half was coming from a pitcher he knows well.

In a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, it sure looked like Snell might still end up making the Giants feel good about the big investment they made in him this spring.

Snell allowed just one hit over five innings, and for the first time in seven starts as a Giant, he left the game in line for a win. The Giants would have to wait until the ninth to finally get the W, but the wait for last year's version of Snell to show up may finally be over. 

Snell allowed fewer than two hits on four separate occasions last season while winning the NL Cy Young Award. Melvin said Tuesday's outing was "pretty close" to what he saw then, when he managed Snell in San Diego. 

"He had all his pitches working," Melvin said. "A lot of times the slider is the last thing to show up for him, but he was throwing changeups and curveballs and spotting his fastball. You know, this is the first time he really felt good when he went out there. He had the proper amount of rehab games and just felt really comfortable with where he was after his last outing."

The Giants were patient with Snell as he came back from a groin strain for the second time, even if at times that was difficult. They had a two-man rotation for a stretch, but they soon will get Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb back, and Snell finally looks ready to join last year's Cy Young runner-up atop the rotation.

He threw his hardest pitch of the season -- 97.7 mph -- and allowed just a single over five innings while walking three and striking out three. For the first time as a Giant, Snell was able to be efficient, although a 75-pitch limit kept him from going past the fifth.

"Just to find a rhythm, trust my stuff, trust my body, yeah I felt a lot better," Snell said. "There was just more confidence knowing that I'm able to repeat [my mechanics]. It was a good feeling."

Snell left with a 1-0 lead thanks to Heliot Ramos' 13th homer, but Ryan Walker had a rare off night, leaving the Giants in a hole. Tyler Fitzgerald got a run back with a solo shot in the eighth and his walk in the ninth helped set up Brett Wisely's game-tying single. When reliever Trevor Richards spiked a changeup, Fitzgerald raced home with the winning run.

The walk-off was the first by the Giants on a wild pitch since 2009, when Nate Schierholtz did it. It stunned the Blue Jays, who have a banged-up bullpen with two key ninth-inning options on the IL. 

The Giants have been in that situation with their rotation all season, it feels like, but they finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. If this is the Snell they're getting again on Sunday and in the second half, they'll be in a much better position to make a serious run.

"The performance up at the big league level, the ERA and things like that, I just don't think are at all indicative of what we will get and what we're expecting to get from him going forward," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said before the game.

Snell was finally able to smile a bit after a start, but he wasn't ready to say he had fully turned a corner. The curveball can get better, he said, and the changeup is a work in progress. Snell is a perfectionist, and perhaps that's what will give the Giants the most hope after Tuesday night. He was dominant, but he's ready to get back in the lab.

"I still think I can be better," he said. "I still think there's a lot to chase."

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